So­cial Jus­tice

Refugees of the world share their sto­ries

Good - - CONTENTS - He­len Man­son is a hu­man­i­tar­ian pho­tog­ra­pher for Tear­fund New Zealand. Tear­fund is com­ing along­side all of the refugees pic­tured by pro­vid­ing ev­ery­thing from emer­gency aid to long-term trauma coun­selling ser­vices and ev­ery­thing in be­tween. For more in­forma

For most of us the word refugee refers to a col­lec­tive group of peo­ple. Them. Oth­ers. Far away. They pop up on our TV screens and on our phones. At first it was in boats head­ing into Europe, then it was flee­ing for their lives out of Syria and right now an­other group are es­cap­ing both famine and war in South Su­dan.

But they are us. We are them. This heav­ing mess of hu­man­ity is ours. And be­hind the veils, be­hind the boats, be­hind the war­zones are mums just like me, with kids just like mine. Be­cause there’s re­ally no dif­fer­ence in what we want for our chil­dren, only in what we can give them.

Over the years I’ve sat with many refugees as they’ve shared their sto­ries of sur­viv­ing war, hu­mil­i­at­ing rape, tor­ture, slav­ery, abuse and the mur­der of loved ones. The pain they de­scribe is un­fath­omable. Be­fore I started do­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian pho­tog­ra­phy/ sto­ry­telling, my hon­est men­tal temp­ta­tion was to imag­ine that peo­ple who en­dured such things ‘on the news’ are some­how fun­da­men­tally dif­fer­ent to me. Maybe, some­how, they just don’t feel things like I do. They’re “used to it”. Maybe they ex­pect less, care less, hope for less, want less or need less. But painfully, over time, I have seen that they are ex­actly like me. And what they en­dured on a mat­tress or what they en­dured as they fled for their lives is in no way eas­ier for them be­cause they are poor.

So let me take you to the front lines of the refugee cri­sis. I’ve got some peo­ple I’d love you to meet. Congo Parts of Congo have been at war for more than 20 years and it’s es­ti­mated more than five mil­lion lives have been lost.

“My name is Rose­mary*. When I was five I watched the rebels rape my mother and kill my fa­ther. The rebels said they would raise me to be their wife. I got my pe­riod at 11 years old. That night one of the men raped me; the rape con­tin­ued from that time on. Some­times all five of them would rape me one af­ter the other. When I was 15 I stole $USD1000 and es­caped. I begged a truck driver to take me to my home but there were strangers there. I was wor­ried the rebels would look for me so I moved to an­other part of Congo. Then war came back and I fled to a Kenyan refugee camp. I now live in Uganda and work as a UNHCR in­ter­preter. Once, I was in­ter­pret­ing for a men­tal health pa­tient and the things she was say­ing brought back many mem­o­ries. They re­ferred her (to Tear­fund); I de­cided to visit their of­fice too. They showed me that I was brave – that I sur­vived.”

South Su­dan

The youngest na­tion on earth is fac­ing war and famine. Right now there are 800,000 South Su­danese liv­ing in refugee camps in Uganda alone.

“My name is Ayenyo and I am 35 years old. I have seven chil­dren aged 3-10 years old. When the war broke out we had to leave quickly. We saw many dead bod­ies as we fled, we also saw peo­ple scream­ing as they were dy­ing. My hus­band dis­ap­peared as we made our way here. My brother also is miss­ing. By the time we reached Uganda the suf­fer­ing was too much and we passed through a lot of stress. But in the camp we ar­rived to more is­sues. Af­ter we ar­rived I started talk­ing to my­self and my senses were run­ning away from me. I had seen so many dead bod­ies but had to keep go­ing to save my­self and my own chil­dren. I had night­mares; my chil­dren had bad dreams and weren’t sleep­ing. Luck­ily, they (Tear­fund) came and taught us how to man­age our stress. I re­ally felt re­lieved and a lit­tle bit of hope for the fu­ture. My re­quest is that they do not leave us alone. We still have a lot of trauma and we want to con­tinue re­ceiv­ing the ser­vice.”


Bu­rundi has suf­fered for many years from political in­sta­bil­ity and episodes of eth­nic vi­o­lence. Many Bu­run­di­ans have fled to neigh­bour­ing coun­tries as refugees.

“My name is Janet. In 1993 the rebels came and killed my first born and my par­ents in front of me. In 2008 the rebels came and called my hus­band out­side. They killed him and our two chil­dren that fol­lowed him out­side. Then they burned our house down. The only chil­dren who sur­vived were the ones at school. I went to get them but one was never seen again. In 2008 I came to Naki­vale Refugee Set­tle­ment. I had a mis­er­able life. I had high blood pres­sure from ex­treme stress. It took two years for my stress lev­els to come down. Be­cause I had no hus­band or source of in­come, my chil­dren were never able to re­turn to school. They were forced to drop out. That was re­ally hard for me. The thing that trau­ma­tises me the most is when I see fire ... it re­minds me of that day. I wanted to run, be mad and not talk to any­one. Through (Tear­fund’s) pro­gramme I’ve learned a lot. When you share your trauma, it loses its grip. It gets re­leased.”


The hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis is played out daily on the news. But it was Roula who brought it to life for me.

“Be­fore the war my sit­u­a­tion was very sta­ble. My first two ba­bies were girls and then I got a baby boy. When I looked at him I felt like I owned the whole world. Then the war came. One day we had to flee. I was eight months preg­nant. As we were run­ning snipers started shoot­ing at me. I was hold­ing my son across my chest; the bul­let went through his shoul­der to his heart. There is noth­ing I could ever say to ex­plain this mo­ment. If I live or die, I will never be able to ex­plain it. I later heard that ISIS took our land. Af­ter they stole ev­ery­thing they bombed our house. When I came to Le­banon I felt very lost. Soon af­ter, they (Tear­fund) came around our fam­ily and gave me hope. It is dif­fi­cult to live here be­cause I used to have my own house. Now I just wish for my own tent. (Tear­fund) have made things eas­ier. They’ve pro­vided for our ba­sic needs and helped get my girls back in school.


Iraq cur­rently hosts more than one mil­lion in­ter­nally dis­placed peo­ple and refugees.

“My name is Shamme. I am 27 and I have three daugh­ters. I re­mem­ber the day ISIS came to Sin­jar. They sep­a­rated my daugh­ters and I from my hus­band. They took us to Syria and told us we have no God and no hu­man­ity. An ISIS man came and forced me to marry him. If I re­fused to sleep with him he would threaten to rape my daugh­ters in­stead. One day he told me he was go­ing to blow him­self up and was sell­ing me to an­other man. This man was so bad. Once we tried to es­cape and he found out and put elec­tric­ity on us and gave us elec­tric shocks. I saw women be­ing stoned to death and many peo­ple with no heads ly­ing on the ground. I strug­gled to sleep and felt like I was go­ing crazy. I saw a 10-year-old girl given drugs and then gang-raped. One day we man­aged to es­cape through a smug­gler. We walked for three days to get to safety. When I went to (Tear­fund’s) pro­gramme it made me feel bet­ter be­cause we talked about how God can give you hope.”

Roula, Syria

Ayenyo, South Su­dan Janet, Bu­rundi

Rose­mary*, Congo So­cial Jus­tice

Shamme, Iraq

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